Coming to the Washington Capitals as a Trade Deadline pickup from the Montreal Canadiens, Ilya Kovalchuk joined his third team of the 2019-20 season, and I for one was not pleased with this move. Since this trade drew the most of my ire that day I felt that it would be most appropriate to do a couple report cards on Kovalchuk. Now while I’ll admit doing his first five games is not really fair as it’s a really tiny sample size of what he has done with the Capitals, it is fair to prorate things a little bit as our next report card will come after his next ten games have been played with the Capitals.
However!! We need to start with this narrative that the credentialed media keeps putting out there that is a complete farce, and that is that this trade is comparable to that of when the Capitals brought in Hockey Hall of Famer Sergei Fedorov. It’s not, it’s really, really not. Fedorov was hands down one of the best two way players of his generation, and was still playing at a really high level when he was near the end of his career with the Capitals. Plus Fedorov was someone the Capitals could rely on to play responsible defensive hockey, even to the point where Fedorov was listed as a defenseman for some games to help the Capitals out on defense. That’s not Ilya Kovalchuk at all. Kovalchuk’s comparable is to that of Jaromir Jagr when he returned from Europe to play in the NHL again because unlike Fedorov, who never left the NHL for a few years then came back, Kovalchuk followed the Jagr path and left the NHL for a number of years to go play in the KHL, and then came back and returned a little slower than he used to be.
Jagr during his return to the NHL, which included stops in Philadelphia, Florida, Calgary, Dallas, New Jersey, and Boston, would be a primary powerplay specialist and playmaker for all the teams he played on, but could not be relied on for defense because his speed was no longer there for him to get back into the play. However, Jagr did sport an impressive plus 47 +/- rating from the 2011-12 season through the 2017-18 season, and ending his NHL career with a plus 322 +/- rating. Jagr was an offensive pivot who was also positioned to play in more offensive situations which also led to a better +/- rating, and impressive stats that allowed him to finish third place all time in goals scored (766).
But enough about the narrative, let’s talk about Kovalchuk’s first five games as a Washington Capital.
February 25th – v. Winnipeg Jets
Stats – 0 Points, -2 +/- rating, 3 shots, 14:38 (18 shifts) time on ice, 60% zone starts percentage
In Kovalchuk’s debut game with the Capitals he had some highs and some lows. Some of the highs were along with his offensive production as he registered three shots on goal, and created a few other chances as well while on the third line with Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin. Kovalchuk would also start 60 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, and that he also spent a healthy amount of time in the offensive zone as well. However, the bad would outweigh the good on this one as Kovalchuk would turn over the puck which would then result in the Jets second goal, and would also be on the ice for the game tying goal for the Jets as well. Major plus of this game though, the impressive reverse hit he put on the Jets defender. Didn’t see that one coming, and that was a really nice hit by Kovalchuk.
February 27th – at Winnipeg Jets
Stats – 0 points, -1 +/- rating, 3 shots, 16:57 (19) time on ice, 64% zone starts percentage
In the second game of the Capitals home and home with the Jets, it would be pretty much the same for Kovalchuk along the stats line. Some good chances on the third line, but still a rough outing defensively. Kovalchuk would be on the ice for the Jets second goal resulting in his -1 +/- rating, but he would have a 64 percent zone starts percentage which allowed him to register his three shots on goal and contribute to more offensive chances for the Capitals.
March 1st – at Minnesota Wild
Stats – 1 assist, +1 +/- rating, 2 shots, 13:11 (16) time on ice, 66.67% zone starts percentage, 4 penalty minutes
The Capitals game against the Wild would feature Kovalchuk’s first point as a Capital as he would record one assist and also would end the game with a +1 +/- rating. Kovalchuk’s 66.67 percent zone starts percentage was also very beneficial to Kovalchuk as he would record two shots on goal, and contribute more offensively as a playmaker. However, Kovalchuk would thug it up during the game as he would take exception to a slash at his hands and would receive a double minor for roughing as a result. Good to see Kovalchuk stand up for himself like that, though four minutes is kinda rough.
March 4th – v. Philadelphia Flyers
Stats – 0 points, even +/- rating, 0 shots, 15:14 (18) time on ice, 40% zone starts percentage
So for these next two games, they were not the best overall team games, so to put onus on Kovalchuk would not be fair to him. This game against the Flyers was a rough one for the Capitals and the biggest indicator is Kovalchuk’s zone starts percentage. It dropped from a 60 percent average to 40 percent of the zone starts being in the offensive zone. That goes a long way to how the team is playing as a whole.
March 5th – at New York Rangers
Stats – 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, +3 +/- rating, 4 shots, 14:06 (19) time on ice, 25% zone starts percentage
In a horrible game played by the Capitals, this was a strong game for Kovalchuk. Despite his offensive zone starts in the offensive zone dropping to 25 percent (a 15 percent drop from the previous game), Kovalchuk would make the best with his opportunities as he would score his first goal as a Capital and record two more assists. This is the type of game that is more expected out of Kovalchuk, lots of shots, key playmaking, and getting points on the board. Unfortunately, this was another rough game for the Capitals as a team, but at least Kovalchuk made the best of it.
All in all while the Capitals have still been struggling lately, Kovalchuk’s transition has been rough but adapting. Starting of with a -3 +/- rating in his first two games to being a +1 +/- rating, and having tallied four points. The offensive production is there, but the defense still remains the questions. However, if the Capitals continue to put Kovalchuk in more offensive situations than defensive we can expect more offensive output that has seen him register 12 shots and four points in five games thus far.